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Monday, September 24, 2012

7 Places to Find & Watch Documentaries Online

It was in the fifth grade while watching a film (yes, a film with two reels) about Plymouth Plantation that I first realized I enjoy watching documentaries. 20+ years later I still enjoy documentaries. As a teacher I think that a good documentary video when used in the right setting can be valuable to students.  Quality documentary videos can provide students with useful explanations or demonstrations of concepts. Unfortunately, documentary DVDs can be expensive acquisitions for some school departments. Here are seven places where you can find and watch documentaries online for free.

PBS Video is currently my favorite place to find high quality documentaries. As a teacher of U.S. History I'm partial to the American Experience videos, but there are many other good programs available through PBS Video. NOVA and Nature are two of the highlights of PBS Video. Most of the videos on PBS Video can be embedded into your blog or website.

Snag Learning and Snag Films offers access to hundreds of high quality documentary videos. Snag Learning categorizes documentaries by grade level and content area. Additionally, Snag Learning offers a series of guiding questions for each film. You can embed previews of each video into your blog, but you have to watch the full-length versions on Snag Learning or Snag Films.

Documentary Heaven is a free site that has organized more than 1600 documentary films found across the Internet. Through Documentary Heaven can find documentaries covering all kinds of topics in science, history, politics, business, and many more categories. The videos are sourced from a variety of services including, but not limited to, YouTube.

Folk Streams is a good website featuring documentary films of American life. Visitors to Folk Streams will find films about various demographic segments of the population as well as films about regions of the country. The films are produced by independent directors and come from a variety of distributors. Most of the films appear to be between thirty and sixty minutes in length although there are some films outside of that range. Visitors to Folk Streams can search by region, subject, title, filmmaker, or distributor.

Explore.org produces and hosts high-quality documentary films and photographs. The films and images focus on exploring the world and the work of non-profit organizations around the world. The films and images are organized by destination. There are twelve destinations in all including China, Tibet, the Middle East, and India. Explore.org is funded in part by the Annenburg Foundation.


Documentary Tube, like similar services, is a catalog of full-length documentaries found on the web. Documentary Tube doesn't actually host the videos rather it catalogs them and displays them through embedding. Documentary Tube videos come from places like Daily Motion, YouTube, and Google Video. The catalog is arranged thematically. If you find a lot of documentaries on Documentary Tube you create and save playlists of your favorites.

DocumentaryZ offers hundreds of documentaries organized into two dozen categories. Many of the videos are served via YouTube, but some are not. If you're fortunate enough to work in a school that allows you to access YouTube, DocumentaryZ is worth bookmarking.

Play the Election - Games for Learning About the U.S. Presidential Election

Play the Election from Rand McNally is a collection of games and lessons for learning and teaching about the 2012 U.S. Presidential Election. Play the Election has three main sections that teachers should check out.

An interactive Electoral College map provides students with a current view of polling information and the number of Electoral College votes up for grabs in each state. Students can click on each state to see the current polling data for that state. Students will also find current news stories about the U.S. Presidential campaigns when they click on the states. To get some historical perspective students can view the results of each election going back to 1960.

In Play the Election Game Central you will find eleven educational games about the 2012 U.S. Presidential Election. My favorite set of games in Game Central is State by State. In the State by State games students learn about the issues important to voters of various states. To find this information students click through interactive mini-infographics. After reading about the important issues students vote on which candidate they think will win, which candidate they think should win, and which issues are of the most importance in that state. Right now there are only four states open in the game, but more are on the way.

The third aspect of Play the Election that teachers should note is the Classroom Manager. In the Classroom Manager teachers can find lesson plans about the 2012 U.S. Presidential Election. The lesson plans are aligned to Common Core standards. Teachers can also use Classroom Manager to see the statistics for the games their students play (students have to register and log-in as class members).

Applications for Education
Even if you and your students don't register on Play the Election you can still use the games and the interactive map. You can play the games without registering, but your scores will not be saved. What I like about the games is that students have to consider background information in the decisions that they make while playing the games.

Study Champs Offers Math, English, and Science Practice Activities

Study Champs is a free service offering online practice quizzes in mathematics, language arts, and science. The online quizzes are essentially online worksheets that offer instant feedback as to whether or not you've entered the correct answer on each question. Study Champs also offers printable worksheets.

Applications for Education
I'm generally not a fan of worksheets or fill-in-the-blank online activities, but I know that some people do like them. If you are looking for some simple online practice activities for your students to use after your lessons, Study Champs might have what you want.

17 Free Tools for Creating Screen Capture Images and Videos

When you're trying to teach people how to do something new on their computers having screencast videos or annotated screen capture images can be invaluable to you and the people you're trying to help. Here are some free tools that you can use to create screen capture videos and images.

Vessenger, producers of a group messaging system, offers a free program for capturing and annotating images on your computer screen. The free program, called Snaplr, is available for Windows and Mac. With Snaplr installed you can capture all or part of your screen. Snaplr's annotation tools include text boxes, highlighting, and free-hand drawing tools. When you've finished creating your annotated screen capture you can save it as a PNG file or attach it to an email message in Outlook.

Using the print screen key on your PC or "command+shift+4" on your Mac are easy ways to create a screen capture. But if you want do more and draw or annotate on that screen capture, give Snaggy a try. Snaggy is a web-based tool for drawing on, annotating, and sharing screen captures. To draw or write on your screen capture just paste your screen capture image into Snaggy. Snaggy offers tools for highlighting a section of your screen capture, typing on it, and drawing free-hand on your image. You can also use Snaggy to crop your image. When you're ready to share your screen capture, Snaggy assigns is a custom url that you can Tweet, email, or post anywhere you like. Snaggy lets you save your edited screen captures to your computer too.


Monosnap is a new, free screen capture tool for Mac and Windows. Monosnap is advertising that they will soon offer it for Android and iOS too. To get started download Monosnap. Once installed you can use Monosnap to capture a portion or all of your screen. One neat option is to capture your screen after a ten second delay. After capturing your screen you can draw on your image, type on it, or highlight portions of the screen capture image. You can save your screen captures on your computer or upload them to a free Monosnap account.

Szoter is a free online tool for annotating images that are stored on your computer. You can also use Szoter to capture and annotate screenshots. You can use Szoter on the web or download the Adobe Air version of it to run on your desktop. Either way you can upload images, draw on those images, and type on those images. When you're done annotating and drawing on your images you can save them to your local computer or share them online through your favorite social networks. Szoter can also be used to capture your screen and create annotated screen captures.

Explain and Send is a free Chrome extension that I have just installed in my browser. The extension allows me to quickly select all or a portion of my screen, draw on it, type on it, and share it. The extension installs in seconds and if you have synchronization enabled (click here to learn how) it will be available to you on all of the computers that you use. After you have created your screen capture you can share it via email, Twitter, or Facebook.

Pixlr offers a large set of image creation and editing tools. One of the tools that can be quite handy is Pixlr Grabber. Pixlr Grabber is Pixlr's screen capture tool. Pixlr Grabber is available as an extension for Chrome or Firefox. Using Pixlr Grabber you can capture your screen, crop the screen image, and print what you like. You can also send the image to Pixlr Editor for further editing options.

Screenr is a very simple, easy-to-use tool for creating screencast videos. You do not need to register in order to use Screenr, but if you want to save your recordings you do need a Twitter account. Screenr uses your Twitter ID to save your recording and publish it to Twitter (you can opt not to publish to Twitter). The recordings you make using Screenr can also be published to YouTube or you can download your recordings.

Screen Castle is a simple screencast creation tool that is completely web-based. To use Screen Castle simply visit their website, click the start button and you're recording. You have the option to enable voice recording for your screencasts. Screencasts made using Screen Castle can be viewed on the Screen Castle website or embedded into your website or blog.

Screencast-O-Matic is a web-based screencast creation tool similar to Screen Castle. Screencast-O-Matic allows you to specify how much of your screen that you want to record. Screencast-O-Matic gives you up to fifteen minutes of recording time per video. If you want to include a webcam view of yourself talking you can do that too. To do that enable your webcam and then when you record a small video of you will appear in the corner of your finished video.

Quick Screen Share is a free screen sharing service from the makers of Screencast-o-matic. To use Quick Screen Cast just go to their website, select share your screen, and enter your name. Quick Screen Share will then provide you with a URL to share with the person with whom you are screen sharing. When that person opens the link you he or she will be able to see your screen. Quick Screen Share doesn't require you to install anything (assuming you have Java installed) or require you to register for the service.

Show Me What's Wrong is a free service offered by Screencast-O-Matic. The service is designed to help you help others with their computer problems. To use the service enter your name and email address to have a custom url assigned to you. You then send that url to the person who needs help. The person receiving your email opens the link and then starts recording his or her screen while talking about the trouble he or she is having. When the person you're trying to help finishes recording his or her screencast is sent directly to you.

Webpage Screenshot is a Chrome extension that you can use to capture all or part of webpage. You can draw and type on screenshots you make with Webpage Screenshot. One feature of Webpage Screenshot that is quite helpful is the option to capture the entire content of webpage even if it doesn't appear in your current view of the webapge.


The tool that I use most often of creating annotated screen capture images is Jing. Jing enables you to take a picture of part of your screen or all of your screen. Once you've captured the area you want in your picture, you can type on it, draw arrows on it, and highlight sections of text within it. To use Jing you must download and install the free software for your Mac or PC. Once it's installed, launch it and it runs in the background until you need it. You'll know that Jing is ready for you to use because you will notice an orange ball in one of the top corners of your screen. It takes up very little screen real estate and is ready to use whenever you need it. You can also use Jing to record a video of your screen. Simply select the area of your screen that you would like to show, click the record button and begin talking. Jing will capture everything you say and do for up to five minutes.

Awesome Screenshot is a great Chrome, Firefox, and Safari browser extension for capturing, annotating, and sharing screenshots. Once you've installed Awesome Screenshot you can simply activate it from your browser to capture a page or region on a page, draw boxes, draw lines, blur out information, and add text to your screenshot. When you're satisfied with your screenshot you can save it locally or share it via the url provided by Awesome Screenshot.

Bounce is a neat application that not only allows you to make annotated screen captures of websites but also allows you to instantly share those screen captures with others. To use Bounce go to their website then type in the url of any website you like and click "Bounce." Bounce will then create an image of that website on which you can draw boxes and annotate those boxes. You can create as many boxes and notes as you like. When you're done creating notes, Bounce will provide you with a unique url for your screen captures that you can share with others. If you create a Bounce account (optional) you and other Bounce users can annotate the same screen capture.

Capturing and Annotating Your iPad's Screen
To capture whatever you're currently viewing on your iPad's screen simultaneously press the on/off switch and the center "home" button. Your screen capture will be saved to your iPad's camera roll. After creating my screen capture I like to use Skitch for iPad to draw and type on the image. Using the latest version of Skitch for iPad you can register for an Evernote account and then your images will automatically be saved in Evernote. You can download Skitch for iPad here.

Capturing and Annotating Your Android Device's Screen
I've not yet found a simple way to capture the screen on my Android devices without rooting the device. I don't recommend rooting your device unless you are very confident that you can do it correctly. In most cases rooting your device will void its warranty.

There is one method that I've used to capture my Android tablet's screen. By using AirDroid you can mirror your Android device to your Windows or Mac computer. Then you can use a desktop screen capture tool like Jing to capture an image of your Android tablet's screen. It's far from being a perfect or quick method, but it works.

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